Common Theme, Evolving Role

A couple of common themes dominate summertime interviews with West Virginia's football players as they work with the strength and conditioning staff to prepare for the opening of preseason camp in August – the leadership search by head coach Bill Stewart, and the ways in which upperclassmen will fill those roles.

It was no different for senior tight end Will Johnson, whose expectations are just as high for his performance as a player as they are for a leader going into his final season.

"It's my last go around," said Johnson. "I'm trying to step up to more of a leadership role. I'm trying to get that to trickle down to the younger guys. I think them just coming in and watching us [speaks to them]. Us older guys leading by example, I think that's trickling down to them. It's helping them and they're buying into our effort."

Johnson has been pleased to see that some of the veterans on the defensive side of the ball have taken an increased role with teaching the younger players the work ethic needed to be successful. Those examples have been evident both on the field and in the weight room.

"On seven on sevens, the older guys are out there and giving us good looks," said Johnson. "The safeties, corners, basically everyone is returning [on defense] so that helps a lot. I've seen that [the young guys on defense] are hard workers. I watch them in the weight room and they're hard workers."

Two newcomers that everyone seems to have an opinion on are freshmen quarterbacks Jeremy Johnson and Barry Brunetti. The two freshmen have impressed everyone with their performances so far, but there's still a long way to go at the most difficult position to master.

"I see [Johnson and Brunetti] learning the playbook but as far as being ready, I think [quarterback] is going to be an open job," said Johnson. "There's a lot of competition. We will have to see how that goes. Geno Smith is coming off of the injury well. He's moving around a lot better. He still has a lot of progression to go through but I think he's doing well. The younger guys are also doing well. I see Jeremy [Johnson] as more of a running type of guy where [Barry] Brunetti is more of a throwing arm. They're picking up the offense well."

Johnson is still not totally sure what his position in the Mountaineer offense will be this season. After seeing limited time in the two spot at tight end, Johnson seems open to possibly moving to a new position on the offense. That's partially due to the continued evolution of the tight end and fullback spots in the offense. As those two spots have been worked into the offensive scheme over the past couple of seasons, they have become more differentiated. Johnson, with skills that work at both positions, has been something of an H-Back – lining up both as a tight end, in a wingback or slot position, and occasionally in the backfield. He has the potential to create mismatches and catch the ball from any of those alignments, and although his career numbers aren't huge (16 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns), he has the ability to be a weapon in WVU's offense.

"It's hard to say [what my role in the offense will be] as of right now," said Johnson. "Coming out of the spring, I thought I had a strong spring and I thought how they used me could really help the offense and keep the defense on their toes. It was the same thing as previous years, trying to get me in that fullback role" With power runners such as Ryan Clarke also in the picture, it's hard to predict if Johnson will become more of a traditional fullback, or if he'll continue to be more of an H-Back style of player. The addition of new tight ends coach Dave McMichael to the staff could also play a factor in that decision. But regardless of where Johnson ends up on the field, he foresees a big season from the offense.

"We have more weapons [this year than last year]," said Johnson. "Depending on how Coach Mullen decides to use them, we could be a very strong, quick hitting offense."

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